Reimagining Central Library’s Rotunda with a Zapotec Worldview

Jul 08, 2016

Two Oaxacan artists have taken a creative approach to utilizing the resources of the Los Angeles Public Library—they’ve turned Central Library into their own studio space. From June 20 to July 17, the Library Foundation of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Public Library welcome artists Darío Canul and Cosijoesa Cernas of the collective Tlacolulokos to Los Angeles. Their month-long residency in Los Angeles is part of the Library Foundation’s forthcoming exhibition, Visualizing Language: A Zapotec Worldview, opening September 16, 2017, at the historic Central Library in downtown Los Angeles as part of the Getty-led initiative, Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA.

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A newly painted mural outside Self Help Graphics in Boyle Heights 

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A snapshot of Dean Cornwell’s sketches for the Central Library murals, currently housed in the City of LA’s archive and soon to be returned to the  Library’s collection.

Natives of Tlacolula, Oaxaca, the artists have been commissioned to produce a series of murals for Central Library’s 2nd floor Rotunda, as a counter-narrative to the Library’s existing murals painted in 1933 by Dean Cornwell that depict the founding of California. At the time of their making, the iconic murals were promoted as being the largest work by a single artist since Michelangelo worked on the Sistine Chapel. They’ve become a focal point within Central Library, which celebrates its 90th birthday this July. The new murals will be on view temporarily, during the period September 16, 2017 through January 31, 2018.

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Documentary filmmaker Yolanda Cruz interviews the artists in the Rotunda, and will accompany the production process in Oaxaca over the course of the project.

Tlacolulokos’ work reflects a self-critique of indigenous identity: “How are we seen? How do we see ourselves?” and uses visual language as a critique of colonial structures and cultural stereotypes. Their work examines the interaction between folklore, tourism, social protest, and migration. Filmmaker Yolanda Cruz will be documenting their experience both in L.A. and Oaxaca as part of a documentary film that will accompany the exhibition in 2017.

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Visiting Olvera Street to view “América Tropical” by David Alfaro Siqueiros.  Dean Cornwell visited Siqueiros in 1932 while the mural was being produced.

Los Angeles is home to the largest population of indigenous Oaxacans outside of Mexico. The exhibition Visualizing Language: A Zapotec Worldview will not only recognize the importance of the Oaxacan presence in Southern California but through public programming in neighborhood libraries across the city of Los Angeles, will also explore contemporary realities of indigenous culture—from California native history to language preservation to activism and the arts. Visualizing Language aims to welcome a diverse public to the Los Angeles Public Library, with programming and interpretive material developed for an all-ages, multilingual population. The exhibition and residency are made possible by a grant from the Getty Foundation.

Tlacolulokos will be giving a talk on Friday, July 8 at 6pm at the Frente Indígena de Organizaciones Binacionales (FIOB) at 4318 S. Main Street, LA 90037.


Stay tuned for more updates throughout the year about this special programming. Learn more about the art and architecture of the historic Los Angeles Central Library in this new book now available at The Library Story.

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